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Acupuncture is about more than just needles. In fact, the Chinese word that typically gets translated as acupuncture, (针灸 or zhenjiǔ), actually means “acupuncture and moxibustion.”

So what exactly is moxibustion?


Folks familiar with acupuncture goers may know moxibustion, or moxa, as the smoky-smelling stuff that sometimes appears during a treatment. More specifically, moxa is an herb—known as mugwort or Artemisia vulgaris—that gets burned on or near an acupuncture point.

Yeah, burned. But don’t worry. Its not as scary as it sounds.

Moxa is a soothing addition to any acupuncture treatment, and it’s especially useful for patients who are not fans of needles.

Here are answers to some of the most common questions about moxa.

Why do therapists use moxa?

Therapists use moxa to warm the body and to bring more qi and blood flow to an area. Moxa typically is applied to places where there is stuck energy or pain, or where the body feels cold. Moxa is used to strengthen the immune system as well.

Often, the placement of moxa coincides with acupuncture points, which is why moxa is said to enhance the effects of acupuncture needles. A classical Chinese text about acupuncture says, “When a disease fails to respond to medication and acupuncture, moxibustion is suggested.”

Does moxa hurt?

Moxa should not hurt. The most common form of moxibustion is indirect moxa.

There are also several forms of indirect moxa, which create a warming effect without ever coming in contact with the skin. The method that we use is where the moxa is placed on top of a slice of another herb like fresh ginger or garlic. This allows the therapeutic properties of the herb to be combined with the properties of the moxa for complementary effect.

If moxa ever feels too hot, tell your therapist and he or she will remove it immediately. Either a therapist or an assistant should stay with you in the treatment room whenever moxa is burning.

What does moxa look like?

There are many different types of moxa. There is loose moxa, moxa that has been moulded into sticks, and okyu (moxa that’s rolled into small pieces about the size of a rice grain). There are also moxa boxes, moxa sticks, smokeless moxa sticks, moxibustion massagers, and “belly bowls”.

Certain moxa types are better suited for smaller areas (okyu, for example) while others, such as tiger warmers, are selected to bring heat to a larger area on the body.

In TCM Wellness Services, we generally use either loose moxa or moxa sticks.

Is moxa always smoky?

Burning moxa can create smoke in the treatment room. Certain types of moxa are smokier than others, and some contain herbs that produce a pleasant smell. Some people enjoy this while others find it overpowering.

If you prefer a smoke-free treatment, tell your therapist. He or she may be able to offer you smokeless moxa. There are also moxa ointments and self-warming moxa patches that produce no smoke. Some therapists have these options available because some buildings do not permit the burning of smoke-producing moxa.

Can I do moxa on myself?

Moxibustion MassagerYes. One of the safest ways to do moxa on yourself is to use a moxibustion massager. A moxibustion massager does not get applied directly to the skin. It is a metal device about the size of a pen that is held above the skin to produce a warming effect on the general area (see picture on the left).

If you buy your own moxibustion massager, instructions on the box will guide you through how to use it. If your therapist sends you home with one, he or she will explain the process. In either case, it’s a good idea to get advice from a therapist about where to apply the moxibustion massager.

For example, a moxibustion massager can be safely used on any of the acupuncture points in this article if you want to boost your immunity. A therapist can provide additional point recommendations for immunity, chronic pain, and more.

Especially this time of year, with the change in weather and the onset of the monsoon season bringing on colds and flu, a little moxa can go a long way.


Acupuncture Without Needles AKA Moxibustion
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